A drenched Saturday followed by a rainy Sunday dampened the overall turnout for Celebrate Fairfax!, but this unique combination of music festival and family-friendly county fair had an estimated attendance of 70,000, about the same as last year.
Celebrate Fairfax! – considered Northern Virginia’s largest community-wide event –features seven stages of music, features more than 120 performances, and a lineup of national, regional and local artists. The national headliners included Good Charlotte, a double bill of Sugar Ray & Gin Blossoms and a closing day show by Cracker, which performed at the event’s newest addition, the Sunday Brew, a combination concert and craft beer festival. Live music remains an essential component of most fairs, but balancing the rising costs of nationally known entertainment acts versus how much of much of a draw the music will be. Celebrate Fairfax! may have a musical emphasis, but it resolves these issues with a few innovative programs.
While many fairs struggle with the issue of whether to charge for an additional admission, Barry Feil, President & CEO, Celebrate Fairfax! points out that the fair offers “22 different ticket types,” offering an array of choices for attendees. The tickets include general admission to VIP Festival admissions with Gold, Platimun and Titanium tiers and include everything from onsite parking to access to a patio lounge. Other packages include a Family VIP, Festival admission with Mega-Passes for the Amusements of America Midway, and special Sunday Festival Admission & General Sunday Brew Admission, a 5K Race Registration package (the festival also included a 5-k race, and the gaming extravaganza, the esports Tournament.. With more than 40 percent of ticket sales online – offering some resilience to rainy days – Celebrate Fairfax! finds that offering both an abundance of activities and an array of choices appealing to all category of festival-goer.
“We’ve created a VIP experience that is truly to-notch, and we have great extras at different levels,” said Feil. “We have a great, outstanding event, and for all the right reasons, we have a loyal fan-base that comes back every year.
Headliners are still costly – but “we sell beer and alcohol, and our beer sales were good.”
He pointed out that booking acts even for a well-established festival – “has become more expensive, and was a little more expensive this year than last year. It is definitely a seller’s market and that will define the market next year as well. I don’t think it is getting worse, but it is not going to change and there’s nothing that we can do it.”
In addition to the price of national headliners, cost have also been rising for the local and regional acts that make up the bulk of the performances on the other stages throughout the festival. “It’s the amount of revenue that is generated that is the plus for having entertainment.” The VIP options, the expanded sponsorship program and the emphasis on beverage sales enabled Celebrate Fairfax! to withstand rain-shortened headliner concerts by Sugar Ray/Gin Blossoms.
While Feil said the economy “seemed” improved compared to last year, he had “no way of knowing, but our vendors were happy so spending seemed up.”
Summer Starts Here
Social media continues to drive the marketing for the festival, “we’ve been active in social media for years, and that media mix has changed, and we are committed to social media marketing, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. The key to marketing is our branding.”
The marketing tagline has remained unchanged for several years – “Summer Starts Here” – but the art work and branding is fresh every year. “We are trying to convey an emotion, people come to our events for an experience, and we try to convey that with the artwork. That has been the model for several years and works for us.”
Celebrate Fairfax! does “absolutely no newspaper advertising,” preferring to craft their messages through social media, supplemented by other digital advertising as well as some sandwich board advertising, television and radio. Whether through their television and radio partners or via online sources, including social media platforms, marketing “directs back to our website, it’s not about how we advertise, what we are trying to do is drive people back to the website, where they can purchase tickets.”
Alternative rock acts, craft beer festivals and a social media-driven, high-tech marketing initiative seems counter intuitive to the attraction of Celebrate Fairfax! – it is a family event. “If you want to define us, it is a county fair without most of the animals, and a mashup with a musical festival.”
This blend makes sense. While bands such as Sugar Ray may still play ‘edgy’ music, they first arrived on the scene in the 1990s and their fan-base has now aged into parenthood. To accommodate the new families, the fair has created Inova Children’s Hospital Avenue, an enclosed, interactive playground, filled with educational programs and other activities designed for children under 12. “It’s more than 4,000 square feet with different booths and activities,” said Feil. “We want to provide crafts and other activities, such as the Silent Disco, and we have a special kid’s stage with entertainment for children. Everything is free, we do not allow any vending. It’s important for families, for mom and dad, to have a safe place to spend time with their children and not feel pressured to buy anything.”
The Amusements of America midway situates their Kiddieland near this Children’s Avenue area. According to Rob Vivona, general manager, Amusements of America, the midway this year featured three “tiers” – Kiddieland, a Food Court and the adult and spectacular rides. “We had a great blend between the tiers,” he explained. “We also added more amenities this year,” which included a ticket box now equipped with chargers for phones and a baby changing table. “We weren’t sure how it would go over, but people do like it. We will be adding to the amenities throughout our season.”
The midway featured 34 rides, slightly fewer than last year, but featured a refurbished Crazy Mouse, returning to the event after a year’s hiatus. Other newly refurbished rides included a Polar Express and a Dizzy Dragon.
“The Mouse was back,” said Vivona “We made a new sign, and added new LEDs. It was a great response and was one of the most popular rides.”
In addition, he said the perennial favorite, the Giant Wheel, was outfitted with new tubs.
While the rain certainly had a negative impact on the closing weekend of Celebrate Fairfax!, “the festival has so much to involve fairgoers with entertainment and several stages, and all the sponsors. They did a beautiful job with their advertising this year, they really make it an exciting event, they know what to bring back and what is good.”
The layout on the grounds is more close-knit said Vivona, compared to more traditional state or county fairgrounds. “But everything is well incorporated into the fair. The concerts are close to the rides, so you have a great flow of traffic.”